Francis Whiting Halsey.

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Copyright, 1902,

Published March, 1902.

Norfaooti ^res*

J. 8. dishing St Co. — Berwick & Smith
Norwood Mass. U.S.A.


L. H.



For permission to reprint so much of this volume
as originally appeared in the New York Times and
its Saturday Review of Books, in the Critic, the Book
Buyer, the Independent, and the St. Paul Globe, the
author desires sincerely to thank the owners of those

In a sense this comprises a considerable part of
the contents — probably as much as two-thirds ; but
the matter has been thoroughly readjusted, expanded,
and rewritten from new points of view.




I. The Enormous Output 3

II. Causes 9

III. Pecuniary Rewards 2 °

IV. The Great Unknown 2 9

V. Yellow Journalism in Literature ... 43

VI. Courts of Appeal 4 8

VII. Impossible Academies 57

VIII. Modern Editing • • • * • • 6 3

IX. The Mechanical Side of Books 77

X. Librarians and their Influence ... 86

XI. The Pathos of a Master's Fate ... 94

XII. The Burning Question I0 4


I. Books that live on through the Years . 115

II. Writers and Something More . . .122

III. Biographies that are Histories . . • x 33



IV. Fashions in Collecting .

V. Profits in Rare Books .

VI. Parkman and Some of his "Sources

VII. Scott's Surviving Popularity .

VIII. Memoirs and Memoir Writers

IX. Burns as an Edinburgh Lion .

X. Pepys, the Little and the Great

XI. Chesterfield, the Forgotten and the

membered ....

XII. Lord Herbert of Cherbury .

XIII. Gibbon's Solitary Grandeur .













It is a universal and much-expressed regret that
the literary output has of late years become almost
a flood. On all sides one hears complaints of it.
Men and women are perplexed to know where they
shall begin their reading and where end it. The
books published in Great Britain alone now number
each year 6000, and perhaps they have gone up to
7000, of which only about 1500 are new editions.
These figures have not yet been reached in America,
but they have been very nearly approached ; so that
in the two countries we have each year about 11,000
books, though many of these are necessarily counted
twice, having been brought out in both continents.

In some other lands the figures are still more for-
midable, — in Italy, 9560; in France, 13,000; in Ger-
many, 23,ooo. 1 Le Droit cT Auteur has estimated the

1 It is important here to bear in mind the custom in Italy, France,
and Germany of recording as books thousands of publications which
scarcely rank as books in our meaning of the word. Dr. E. C. Rich-
ardson, the librarian of Princeton University, has pointed out that
among the 9500 Italian books are 4000 which have fewer than twenty-
five pages each, while of the French total " more than half are pam-
phlets under the American definition." He shows further that were



number published in the whole world for a single
year at the enormous total of 70,554. With all de-
ductions made for new editions and translations,
these figures remain sufficiently impressive. No sane
man not engaged in making catalogues could possi-
bly interest himself in any considerable number of
these books. Men having widely varied interests and
sympathies are necessary in the creation of a market
for books published in such thousands. Many are, of
course, technical books and school books ; others are
directories, privately printed books, catalogues, and
so on; so that, depressing as the outlook for good
literature may remain, it is obviously not so bad as
the total would make it appear.

It is now a full generation since the public began
to be overwhelmed with books ; indeed, a few statistics
will show how enormous has been the increase in
books, even within the lifetime of many persons still
living. From the invention of printing until the
beginning of the sixteenth century, it is believed
that not more than 30,000 books had been produced
in the whole world. As evidence of the rate of
growth from that time until the middle of the nine-
teenth century the number of books offered at the
German fairs every twenty-five years is interesting.

the same standards employed in this country, we should have far
higher American totals, there having been copyrighted in the year 1899
15,215 publications which in a sense could be called books, but of
which only 5834 were books of a substantial kind. In addition, Dr.
Richardson believes there are produced in this country each year at
least 10,000 pamphlets of twenty-five pages or more each.


In 1650 only 948 books were shown, and there was
no marked increase until 1725, when the total rose
to 1032, and in 1750 to 1290. But with the opening
of the new century an advance was made to 4012,
while in 1846 the total reached 10,536. In this coun-
try, from 1640 until 1776, a period of 136 years, the
output, including almanacs, sermons, and laws, was
only about 8000, while for the twenty-four years be-
tween 1876 and 1900 the "American Catalogue" was
able to record as then in print 170,000 books, and
for the single year 1900 the Trade List Annual gave .
a total of 1 50,000 titles. 1

Books as they come from the press are in fact
fast becoming what many newspapers and maga-
zines have been — publications whose term of life is
ephemeral. They exist as the favourites of a month,
or possibly a year ; then, having had their brief sum-
mer-time of success, they silently go their destined
way. Oblivion overwhelms them. Not ten per cent
of any one year's books can hope to linger a year
after their publication in the popular memory even
as names.

As a matter of fact the writing of books has de-
generated into a sort of habit, which has been steadily
growing upon the human race for some years. Time
was when to have written a book gave a person some
degree of distinction. Men and women were pointed
out as authors, and their books, once named in edu-

1 For these figures the author is indebted to his friend, Mr. A.
Growoll, managing editor of the Publishers' Weekly.


cated circles, were recognized; but that time has
measurably gone by. To have written a book now-
adays is to have done what thousands of others have
done, or are at present busily engaged in doing. It
amounts to little more than does the statement that
some person has designed a new building, invented a
labour-saving machine, or constructed a new kind of
street-car rail.

Meanwhile, though the publishers never before were
so deluged with manuscripts, there is something to
be thankful for in the fact that only a very small
proportion of the writing activity going on ever finds
representation in printed books. A few years ago
Frederick Macmillan declared publicly in London
that his house in one year had accepted only 22
manuscripts out of 315 submitted. Another pub-
lisher put his average of acceptance far lower : it
was only 13 for 500 submitted. Inclined as we may
be to blame the publishers for our deluge, these facts
show us how substantial is our debt to them. They
have served us most effectually as a dam.

Other figures may appall us still more. The ca-
pacity of the book-printing houses and binderies of
New York has been reckoned to be 100,000 volumes
per week. It is believed that another 100,000 vol-
umes in school books and cheaply made books could
also be produced in one week. One New York house
has been known to take an order on Monday morn-
ing to manufacture 2000 copies of a book containing
350 pages by the following Wednesday night. The


type was all set in a single night; next day the presses
were started, and on the third day the covers were on
the books. By the end of the week, 10,000 copies
had been turned out.

Authors themselves have caught this fever and
habit of rapid production. Once fame has come to
them, they strive more and more to meet the demand
for their writings, — a process certain to ruin their
art; and yet few withstand the temptation. One
author records, as if he were proud of the achieve-
ment, that he can regularly produce 1000 words in
a day. Another can write 1500, while the most
accomplished of all in that line can produce 4000.
Trollope told us he could average 10,000 words a
week, and when pushed could more than double the
output. Writing done at this rate of speed is not
literature and cannot be. It is simply job work, the
work of day labourers, — in no sense the work of
genius or inspiration.

Confiding readers who may indulge a belief that
some of the popular books of the day of this descrip-
tion are to remain fairly permanent additions to Eng-
lish literature, should recall to their minds the titles
of some of the most popular favourites of half a cen-
tury or more ago. Here are an even dozen such :
"Ringan Gilhaize," by John Gait (1823); "The
Pilgrims of Walsingham," by Agnes Strickland
(1825); "Two Friends," by the Countess of Bless-
ington (1825); "Now and Then," by Samuel War-
ren (1848); "Over Head and Ears," by Dutton


Cook (1868); "Temper and Temperament," by Mrs.
Ellis (1846); " Modern Society," by Catharine Sinclair
(1837); "Wood Leighton," by Mary Howitt (1836);
"Round the Sofa," by Mrs. Gaskell (1859); "The
Lost Link," by Thomas Hood (1868); " Lady Her-
bert's Gentlewoman," by Eliza Meteyard (1862);
"Called to Account," by Annie Thomas (1867).

Few readers now living know anything of these
books. The younger generation probably never
heard of one of them. At the same time, there
came from the publishers other books in small edi-
tions of which the fame is greater now than it ever
was — those of Ruskin, Tennyson, Emerson, Haw-
thorne, and Carlyle, which have become permanent
additions to the glory of the English tongue.



The causes of our deluge, once we reflect on the
intellectual history of the past twenty or thirty years,
are plainly to be seen. They lie in the greater effi-
ciency of the common schools, the increase in attend-
ance at colleges, the enormous growth of libraries,
free and otherwise, the spread of such systems of
instruction as are provided at Chautauqua, the growth
of periodical literature, from reading which the public
passes by a natural process of intuition to reading
books, the free travelling libraries, and along with
these causes the very important one of the general
decline in the cost of printing books and magazines.
To get an education has become the mere matter of
taking the time to get it. One lies within the reach
of all who seek it. How keen and widespread has
become the appetite for reading is seen in the famil-
iar fact that popular magazines find their largest sup-
port in small and distant communities. Many purely
literary periodicals have their subscribers scattered
through small towns from Maine to Texas, from Florida
to the state of Washington. Readers in such localities
have become a mainstay of book publishers also.
The natural outcome of this is a tremendous growth


in the number of those who know how to write;
who have acquired ideas, power to express themselves,
and self-confidence in saying what they think in print.
Names often appear on title-pages that were unknown
before, even to periodical literature. Many of these
writers for years had been acquiring rich stores of
knowledge, with literary taste and literary feeling.
They have written out of full minds, — as amateurs,
it is true, but showing real love and knowledge of
books, clearness of understanding, joyousness in
work, culture, purpose, power.

Then again, books have become more attractive to
the eye. It is beyond dispute that they are better
manufactured everywhere, both as to print, binding,
and cover design. Even the ordinary novel is more
certain to have a cloth than a paper cover. Paper
covers as an infliction have definitely passed away.
Perhaps the most disastrous failure the book trade
has ever seen was made by a house which in the
last years of its existence poured them forth with
unrestrained profusion. Its failure in considerable
degree was due to the unprofitableness of paper-
bound books. Cheap as they were, the public would
not buy them. Nor has the adoption of cloth covers
in any way tended to lessen the quantity of books
published, but quite the contrary. Improved methods
of distribution meanwhile have sprung up, mainly in
the department stores and in methods of advertising,
through which have been made possible enormous
sales never known before.


England has presented conditions that have oper-
ated favourably in other ways. Less expensive books
have come from that country ; not paper-covered
ones, but a single volume where formerly there were
three. After a brave and long-extended fight worthy
of a better cause, the three-volume novel has received
its death-blow. It is not many years since book-buy-
ing in England was a pursuit possible only to men
with money to spare ; but the buying of a popular
book is as feasible to a lean English purse now as it
is to an American.

Moreover, it has become very easy to get a book
printed, being a mere question of paying a printer,
and ordinarily $300 will be quite sufficient. Paper,
type-setting, and binding have all been growing
cheaper. We have actually no safeguards except
the cost. The mind is bewildered when it contem-
plates the stores of books the Library of Congress
must eventually contain, — those it now contains and
those it will have added to its store when present
conditions have prevailed some generations longer, —
a few kernels of wheat lost in heaps of chaff.

Another contributing cause has been foreign wars
and what we call territorial expansion. Men's inter-
ests and their visions have been widened. New
activity has gone into the literary habit as into most
other occupations, and here we encounter a familiar
fact in history. In the life of nations it is times of
war and times just subsequent to them that have seen
produced some of the most famous books of the


world. Prolonged periods of peace have often been
marked by few books, and notably by commonplace
and unimportant ones. From the Napoleonic wars
date the poems and some of the early prose writings
of Scott, many of Coleridge's poems, Wordsworth's
and Byron's — some of the greatest names English
literature gathered to her roll of honour in the last
century. Nor do these names exhaust the possible
list : Landor, Lamb, and Southey belong also to that
period. England's earlier conflict, when she warred
with her colonies on the Atlantic seaboard, would
tell a similar story. Burns was then writing his
songs, Boswell collecting material for his biography,
and Gibbon telling his story of a great nation's de-
cline and fall. France herself, from the outbreak of
the Revolution until the battle of Waterloo, a period
of twenty-six years of almost constant warfare, saw
produced some of the best-remembered works in
modern French literature.

Details from the totals of books published, when
carefully studied, afford gleams of hope. Books of
theology, poetry, and education have remained about
the same in numbers from year to year; but there has
been shown in this country an increase of as many
as 200 among historical books and 100 among new
novels, with still greater increase among reprinted
novels, which of course points to interest in stand-
ard fiction, and of these the increase has recently
been 200.

These figures will not surprise those accustomed to


observe tendencies. Novel-writing has been a grow-
ing pursuit, and no signs of decay appear. But it is
the novel of adventure and of history that gains the
warmest welcome. No writers find such rewards as
do successful writers of these books ; nowhere, indeed,
is more notable literary art now in evidence. Men
and women, after all, are interested in nothing so
deeply as in human nature — its fortunes, history,
manifestations, and possibilities. To the end of time
fiction will be universally read. The tales found in
old Egypt, the folk-lore that pervades the literature
of every land and epoch, proclaim how wide this
interest has been in the past, and sales of novels
proclaim how permanent it still remains.

The greatest source of gratification respecting fic-
tion, however, may be derived from the increase in
the number of reprints. Samuel Rogers once re-
marked, " When a new book comes out I read an old
one." The public obviously begins to follow his
example to some purpose. How rich a storehouse
exists to be opened up each year for the delight and
admiration of readers ! We may not hope in our
time to see produced again such work as the
masters did, though an occasional example may
be produced worthy of mention ; but with Fielding,
Jane Austen, Walter Scott, and all that noble com-
pany of the dead who still live, the time need never
come when readers will actually lack for good novels
to read, or publishers for good ones to reprint.

In the increase among books of history doubtless


lies the most suggestive fact. This reflects known
conditions. Never before have historical studies
been so popular with so many classes of persons.
Not only are the graver and grander topics receiving
unwonted attention, but the minor ones, the local
annals, the annals of industries and organizations,
and those of individual lives ; and this increase prom-
ises to become even greater before it declines. The
fields yet to be explored are many and the material
worth the finding is of vast amount.

A distinctive feature of books in this country has
been those relating to our own history, whether they
were fiction or more sober history. Here we see
disclosed the interest in our own storied past which
the patriotic societies have done so much to foster.
The tendency w T ill scarcely stop here. The next step
seems almost inevitably to be the writing of better
local histories. Out of this are already coming in-
centives to the several states, our own included, to
print their historical records, which have so long
been permitted to rest in archives hidden from the
public gaze.

Fiction now embraces over twenty-five per cent of
the whole number of books published. History and
biography combined are next on the list. Theology
stands third and music last. The classification shows
conclusively how men and women are interested in
nothing so deeply as in the vital aspects of their own
race — its past, present, and future — books relating
to human life as pictured in fiction, as lived in the



past, and as it may be hereafter. The growth of
this interest has clearly been commensurate with the
spread of universal education.

Nearly one-half of all the books published come
under these three headings. The relative numbers
represent in what seems due proportion the various
orders of mind found among men and women. Fic-
tion appeals to the largest number, because it appeals
most powerfully to the lower grades of intelligence.
History properly comes next, and theology, in which
only the least common minds take interest, comes last.

Very notable in all this growth has been the rise
of New York to its supreme place as a publishing
centre. Early in the last century Philadelphia held
the chief place in rank. Supremacy then passed
to Boston. During the last quarter of a century the
publishing business has become more and more one
of the distinctions of New York. Statistics on this
subject, compiled a few years ago, are interesting.
They came from what may be accepted as authentic
sources, and gave the number of books published by
a few leading houses in the United States.

The list was imperfect in some important respects.
It omitted a large English house now on an Ameri-
can business foundation, and all the houses in Chi-
cago, where the importance of publishing interests is
growing. One large Boston house was also omitted,
and smaller firms there and elsewhere. But the
statement as far as it went was extremely interesting,
disclosing as it did the ascendency of New York as


the book centre of the whole country. Here we had
654 books from New York, with only 150 from Bos-
ton and 113 from Philadelphia. 1

It is impossible that the inclusion of all the houses
in the country in these lists would have modified
New York's overwhelming lead. The one English
house omitted would alone have offset for New York
nearly all the houses from Boston. It would be
entirely safe to affirm that more than two-thirds of
all the books published in the country now come
from New York. Had we at hand corresponding
figures for magazines, the showing would be equally
favourable to New York. Boston has only one maga-
zine of distinct rank to set down, and Philadelphia
only one.

It is also in New York that the most important
sales of books at auction take place. Boston, for
example, in all its book history down to 1899, had
witnessed the sale of only thirty-six books that
fetched as much as $200, whereas in New York had
been sold 275 books for that sum or a larger one.
From the point of view of totals realized for collec-
tions sold, the results are equally striking in their
showing of the supreme place New York holds.

1 It appeared that D. Appleton & Co. were first among the houses
named, having produced 123 books in the year. Then came Charles
Scribner's Sons with 1 21, the J. B. Lippincott Company with 113,
Houghton, Mifflin and Company with 104, Longmans, Green & Com-
pany with 104, Dodd, Mead and Company with 101, Harper &
Brothers with 89, G. P. Putnam's Sons with 46, and the Century Com-
pany with 31,



This concentration of literary interests in one place
has operated as concentration always does, in facili-
tating methods of distribution. Combined with the
magazines and literary periodicals, now so numerous
in New York, it has been a very active force in the
popularization of books as reading-matter.

Amid these new and potent factors in contempo-
rary literature have come changes in methods of
selling books. No more remarkable influence has
entered the trade than the influence of the dry-goods
stores, where departments devoted to the sale of the
day's popular books have grown to large proportions.
Probably the regular book-stores in their totals of
trade have not really suffered. What they have
lost in one direction, they may have made up in
others, — for one thing in what are known as col-
lector's books, for another in fine editions, well-
bound books, and in limited editions. Moreover, it
should always be remembered that the number of
persons who buy books has enormously increased.
The number of books published and the sales of suc-
cessful books present striking contrasts to the corre-
sponding totals for ten and twenty years ago. Such
sales as Du Maurier and Maclaren, Hall Caine and
Kipling, Stevenson, Churchill, Paul Leicester Ford,
and Mrs. Ward have had, were then absolutely un-

The larger view of this change will scarcely
awaken regrets. Even houses which have suffered
from it have probably seen a way to other profits


and to other methods bringing compensations. The
public has bought more books and has read more;
the general level of knowledge and culture has cor-
respondingly been raised. And this increase will
continue. More and more men are acquiring the
laudable habit of buying a book as cheerfully as they
buy a handful of cigars, and women as willingly as
they buy a pair of gloves.

Meanwhile the need remains for some step by
which the small bookseller, dealing in current litera-
ture, may have his trade restored to him. Wide
interest has accordingly been taken in the action of
leading publishers in making an agreement which
shall cause its members to deal in copyrighted books,
exclusive of fiction, at net prices. Members of the
association they have formed desire to restore book-

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Online LibraryFrancis Whiting HalseyOur literary deluge and some of its deeper waters → online text (page 1 of 15)